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What can White Sox make of Avisail Garcia's strong spring?

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What can White Sox make of Avisail Garcia's strong spring?

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Is Avisail Garcia’s torrid start to spring training a sign of things to come or a desert mirage?

That’s one of the more pressing questions to be answered not only over the remainder of spring training, but once the White Sox regular season begins in just under three weeks. 

Garcia bashed his way to a .435 batting average and 1.393 OPS with two home runs over his first eight Cactus League games entering Tuesday. The 24-year-old right fielder tweaked his batting stance to bring his hands lower and closer to the strike zone, which he said has allowed him to identify and react to pitches better. Coaches and scouts are seeing his bat stay in the strike zone longer and be on a better plane, too. 

All of it adds up to an encouraging narrative surrounding a guy who limped his way to a .675 OPS and -1.4 WAR in 2015. 

“You work for something,” Garcia said. “I think if you want to get better you have to adjust and try to be focused when you do it. I think that’s the case.”

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Hitting coach Todd Steverson is less concerned about the results and more focused on how the hulking Garcia approaches each swing, at-bat and game. It’s still early in the process — eight games does not mean a change will work — but Steverson is looking for consistency in Garcia’s approach to see if the tweaks to his stance will stick long-term. 

But getting results, even in the laid-back atmosphere of spring training games, can help prove to Garcia that the changes and suggestions thrown at him by the coaching staff are worth it. 

“I think for him, he’s encouraged by that and I think the numbers and what he’s done in the spring back it up,” manager Robin Ventura said. “To me, he looks different. There is something there that is a tangible change that his swing’s different.” 

If anyone needed a change from his 2015 results, it was Garcia. His approach was often dreadful — he swung at the third-highest percentage of pitches among qualified hitters last year (60.2 percent) but had the eighth-worst contact rate (70.6 percent). Those offensive issues, plus some defensive headaches, meant by WAR Garcia was rated as the third-worst everyday player in baseball. 

Taking a laissez-faire approach, then, wasn’t an option for the White Sox toward Garica’s development. By having his hands closer to the strike zone — “last year was too far,” Garcia said — he feels like he’s far more comfortable at the plate. It’s shown through both of Garcia’s spring home runs being to left field, and that’s he’s not just swinging to make contact, but swinging to make hard contact. 

“I think he’s changed his approach in the right way,” third baseman Todd Frazier observed. “He’s calm, he’s nice and smooth at the plate. It looks like he’s stretched free. I don’t know how pitchers feel when you see a guy who’s nice and relaxed. It’s kind of tough. 

“He looks great up there at the plate, he’s determined, he wants to bounce back and have a great year. I can see it in his eyes. It’s a lot of fun to watch so far.”

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But the positivity surrounding Garcia often hits a roadblock when the “it’s just spring” realization hits. In 1,098 major league plate appearances, Garcia has a .264 batting average and .696 OPS; his minor league line is only a little better (.291 batting average, .736 OPS in 2,407 plate appearances). 

Garcia’s 24 spring plate appearances would represent 2 percent of his major league total and .05 percent of his plate appearances as a professional. 

Garcia’s defense remains insufficient, too; both defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating have him costing his team more than 20 runs over his four seasons in the major leagues. 

“I think he’s always going to be a big kid out in the outfield,” Ventura said. “That part, you can’t just make him a track star out there, so there’s going to be some that he doesn’t get to. But if he can catch the ones that he gets to he’s going to be all right.”

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The one positive to go in the face of Garcia’s history is one echoed by both Steverson and Ventura: Sometimes, things just click, and it’s not necessarily easy to know when they will. Garcia turns 25 in June and has been praised for his raw potential for years. Somewhere in that 6-foot-4, 240 pound frame that could be mistaken for an NFL linebacker might be a consistent, productive hitter. 

At least, that’s what the White Sox are hoping for. 

“It’s probably too early but I like the mechanical changes that he’s made,” Ventura said. “Part of that becomes his confidence and how he feels. I think he’s starting to understand what we’re talking about, and he can see it, feel it, and I think the numbers are there to back it up. Spring’s always, to me, if a guy has a good spring, it’s nice, but it doesn’t really mean anything. 

“I think for him, making noticeable changes that we know he’s making, he’s receptive to it. That’s part of going through this. I think you’re encouraged by all that.” 

White Sox Talk Podcast: Ask Us Anything Part 1

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Ask Us Anything Part 1

We asked you to ask us anything about the White Sox and you delivered in a big way. We got so many questions, we had to do two different podcasts! Among the questions here in Part 1: should the White Sox send Yoan Moncada to Triple-A? What players will be traded before the deadline? Who are some sleeper prospects in the minors? Will Jordan Stephens be called up before Michael Kopech? Should Juan Uribe be a team ambassador? What's our all-time White Sox team from 2000 to the present and many more.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Rick Hahn says 'there will be many' promotions for White Sox prospects this week

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USA TODAY

Rick Hahn says 'there will be many' promotions for White Sox prospects this week

The White Sox have a number of highly-rated prospects performing well in the minors and some of them will be on the move within the system in a matter of days.

General manager Rick Hahn talked to reporters ahead of Monday night's White Sox game in Cleveland, a 6-2 loss, and gave the news. Well, sort of.

He didn't include names, but he did say that "there will be many" promotions after the minor league all-star games for Double-A and both Single-A teams take place on Tuesday.

Hahn added that Chris Getz, the White Sox player development director, will address the media before the White Sox host Oakland on Thursday about the moves.

If the all-star games are a reason to wait, it's safe to think some of the players involved will be playing in those games. So who could be on the move?

Double-A Birmingham has six all-stars: Eloy Jimenez, Zack Collins, Seby Zavala, Danny Mendick, Dane Dunning and Ian Hamilton. Jimenez is the name everyone wants to see on the move. He has torched the Southern League since getting off to a late start to the season due to injury. Hahn was asked about Jimenez, but didn't tip his hand as to whether he would be one of the promotions.

Dunning has been good in Double-A (2.78 ERA, 65 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings), but was already promoted this season so he may not be on the move again.

Single-A Winston-Salem has five all-stars: Dylan Cease, Luis Alexander Basabe, Joel Booker, Bernardo Flores and Matt Foster. Cease, 22, could be due for a promotion with a 2.89 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings. There's also that outfield logjam the Dash, which won the first-half division title, have had all season.

Other than Basabe and Booker, Blake Rutherford and Alex Call are also noteworthy prospects being forced to split time in the Dash's outfield. If Jimenez is moving up to Triple-A, one or two names from this group could be on the move to take his spot in Birmingham.

This would especially make sense if highly-touted outfield prospect Luis Robert, who was supposed to be in Single-A Kannapolis for a short period before joining the Dash, is ready to move up as planned. Robert is hitting .289/.360/.400 in 13 games with the Intimidators.

Birmingham, Winston-Salem and Kannapolis were all off Monday. The various all-star games will take place Tuesday and the three teams will be off again Wednesday. The promotions could be announced Thursday ahead of Getz's scheduled media availability.